Tucked deep into last-minute amendments to the state’s capital budget that lawmakers passed late Thursday is a notable victory for LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey.
Over the wishes of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mulkey got some funding for a renovation to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center that she had stumped for throughout the session.
The amendment slates $101 million to the Tiger Athletic Foundation--the private arm of LSU’s behemoth athletics program--for a PMAC “enhancement project” for planning and construction.
The number is eye-popping, but it’s not certain that the funding will come to fruition in the short term.
About half of the money--$50 million--is the lowest priority category for funding, meaning lawmakers will have to appropriate it in future years.
The amendment gives the foundation $1 million to spend in the short term and allows for another $50 million in fees and self-generated revenue to fund the renovations. That means the project could get rolling soon, even though the full amount for construction won’t be available this year.
On the other hand, the bill--House Bill 2 by Rep. Stuart Bishop -- is about $400 million over capacity, Bishop said in an interview. That means the governor will have some discretion on which projects to move forward. The construction budget is separate from HB1, the main budget bill, which garnered controversy late Thursday as the Legislature passed a lengthy series of amendments with minutes to spare, including a surprise $100 million reduction to the HealthDepartment that upset some members.
Bishop said several members asked for the funding for the PMAC Thursday morning, as he was negotiating with senators on a lengthy set of amendments. He declined to name them.
“Unfortunately with the time crunch … HB2 is not in the best shape or most perfect form,” he said. “It is the bill. Being in thetime frame it wasin;we’ll just have to work through it with bond commission in the next year.”
Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, identified himself as one of the people asking for the money in a tweet.
Cody Worsham, an LSU spokesperson, said Friday the money will fund a planning process that will help determine the total budget of the plan, which is aimed at "transforming" the PMAC and surrounding areas. He noted the budget for the project will probably exceed $100 million, and said the school has already been doing some planning work on it.
"We're really looking at it long term as an opportunity to elevate the entire city, entire community," he said.
Fresh off a national championship, Mulkey has hit the stump in recent months, pitching for funding for the PMAC at LSU Day at the State Capitol and at a Baton Rouge Rotary Club meeting.
“That thing is 48 years old,” she said at one point. “You can’t grab a rail without holding onto somebody.”
“I can say this now,” Mulkey added. “I just won a national championship.”
But Edwards poured cold water on the idea, saying the state has bigger fish to fry. He called for lawmakers to prioritize things such as deferred maintenance on campuses. He has line-item veto authority, meaning he could strip it out of the budget entirely, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether he was considering that. An Edwards spokesperson said he was still sorting through the budget bills and declined to comment.
LSU, whose eyesore of a library is crumbling and has been the source of repeated complaints, got an increased allocation of future money for a new library in the construction budget, $3.25 million in priority funding, up from $2 million last year, along with $149.5 million more in future money.
That library funding is in line with what Edwards asked for in order to do planning and architecture work on the new library, which is slated for an area near the football stadium. The future funding of about $150 million fulfills the full planned cost, though lawmakers will need to come back and allocate that money in later years.
Staff writer Tyler Bridges contributed to this story.